LOADING ...

DNA Could Be One of a Million Possible Genetic Molecules

Ryan F. Mandelbaum Nov 13, 2019. 9 comments

There could be a million different structures with the ability to store genetic information, according to a recent paper.

DNA stores the genetic information that describes all of Earth’s life, in the form of a twisted scaffold lined with a sequence composed of four data-encoding molecules. But is DNA the best way to store biological data for every purpose? What if there are better molecules for other purposes?

The new research points “toward there being large spaces of unexplored chemistry relevant to pharmacology and biochemistry and efforts to understand the origins of life,” according to the paper published in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling.

The researchers uncovered the rich variety of possible data storage molecules using a program called MOLGEN 5.0. They started by defining what a nucleic acid-like component should be made from, beginning with a “fuzzy” base molecular formula. They also defined what its structure should be: It needs a piece that another molecule reading the component can recognize as the data (in DNA, this is the A, T, C, and G, or nucleobase) as well as points to connect the recognizable unit to the scaffolding and to link each of those components into a larger molecule. Then, they used another program called Pipeline Pilot to generate new structures with the same chemical formulas to see what they might have missed. Finally, they compared the output to databases of molecules to see if any of their new molecules already existed, and used another computer program to exclude molecules that violated various chemistry restrictions.

No one actually produced these molecules. According to the paper, this work is “the first systematic attempt” to list, count, and describe the space of all nucleic acid-like molecules.

This team of scientists first simply explored molecules with the same chemical formula as, but different structure from, RNA—the single-stranded copies of DNA that the body actually uses as instructions for building proteins. Extending this study to more general chemical formulas generated an enormous list of unexplored possibilities for what genetic material might look like: 1,160,990 different structures.

“It is truly exciting to consider the potential for alternate genetic systems based on these analogous nucleosides—that these might possibly have emerged and evolved in different environments, perhaps even on other planets or moons within our solar system,” said study author Jay Goodwin, senior research fellow in chemistry at Emory University, said in a news release. “These alternate genetic systems might expand our conception of biology’s ‘central dogma’ into new evolutionary directions, in response [to] and robust to increasingly challenging environments here on Earth”

Considering these other possible genetic molecules could help scientists better understand the origin of RNA and DNA and why they look the way they do on Earth. It might also help synthetic biologists hoping to use DNA-like molecules as

biological storage drives .

It’s exciting stuff. “This paper is a remarkably thorough analysis” of the field, George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, told Gizmodo in an email. Now that such an analysis exists, “we might be surprised how quickly the community makes these and tests them for possibly utility.”

In other words, now that the list is out there, expect scientists to begin digging in and exploring whether any of these possible molecules have use in the real world.

9 Comments

Other Ryan F. Mandelbaum's posts

This Locked Cabinet Holds the Answer to One of the Biggest Questions in Particle Physics This Locked Cabinet Holds the Answer to One of the Biggest Questions in Particle Physics

A 50-foot ring topped with white insulation sits attached to wires, pipes, and other electrical components in a warehouse on Fermilab’s northern Illi...

Using a DNA-Based 'Computer,' Scientists Get the Square Root of 900 Using a DNA-Based 'Computer,' Scientists Get the Square Root of 900

Using a computer-like system made from engineered DNA, scientists have computed the square root of 900.Biologists have proposed using genetic materia...

'Remarkable' Mathematical Proof Describes How to Solve Seemingly Impossible Computing Problem 'Remarkable' Mathematical Proof Describes How to Solve Seemingly Impossible Computing Problem

You enter a cave. At the end of a dark corridor, you encounter a pair of sealed chambers. Inside each chamber is an all-knowing wizard. The prophecy ...

Scientists Built a Robot From 40 Pigeon Feathers and It Flies Beautifully Scientists Built a Robot From 40 Pigeon Feathers and It Flies Beautifully

Scientists seeking to understand the mechanics of bird flight have constructed PigeonBot, a robot made from 40 pigeon feathers (and a few other compon...

Suggested posts

Twitter Deletes More Than 170,000 Accounts Linked to Chinese Misinformation Effort Twitter Deletes More Than 170,000 Accounts Linked to Chinese Misinformation Effort

Twitter announced Thursday that it had shut down more than 170,000 accounts linked to a Beijing-backed campaign to spread propaganda about the Chines...

Suspect in Deadly Bay Area Rampages Tied to Militant, Far-Right 'Boogaloo' Movement Suspect in Deadly Bay Area Rampages Tied to Militant, Far-Right 'Boogaloo' Movement

A U.S. Air Force sergeant accused of orchestrating two deadly attacks on law enforcement in the Bay Area had a history of supporting right-wing extre...

Once Friends, Google and Sonos Are Now Suing Each Other Once Friends, Google and Sonos Are Now Suing Each Other

Google, bored of constantly duking it out with Apple and Amazon , is now suing Sonos—though, to be fair, Sonos did sue Google first .Google filed its...

Buckle Up, Zuck, Now Joe Biden Is Gonna Petition the Heck Out of You Buckle Up, Zuck, Now Joe Biden Is Gonna Petition the Heck Out of You

In January 2020, former vice president and likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden went off on Facebook , saying it should lose its Section ...

Hey, Pluto TV, What the Fuck? Hey, Pluto TV, What the Fuck?

Amid ongoing public outcry and protests over systematic racism, police brutality, and the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last month...

Long-Delayed James Webb Space Telescope Is Again Delayed Long-Delayed James Webb Space Telescope Is Again Delayed

We’re going to have a wait even longer for NASA’s next-generation James Webb Space Telescope to leave Earth, owing to delays caused by the covid-19 p...

This Is the PS5 This Is the PS5

While Microsoft has already shared a number of details about the Xbox Series X , Sony has taken a more cautious approach for its next-gen console. B...

Google Assistant Is About to Get More Useful On Every Smart Device Google Assistant Is About to Get More Useful On Every Smart Device

Google Assistant is incredibly useful, but depending on which devices you own, you might not have access to all of its commands and features. Google ...

The Modder Putting Everything from Alexa to the SNES in Boomboxes The Modder Putting Everything from Alexa to the SNES in Boomboxes

Colin Elwell is a salesman by trade, but when you wander into his lab in Lawrence, Kan., you’ll find more than 50 boomboxes inside, each of them uniqu...

CDC Document Shows Just How Badly the U.S. Is Handling Coronavirus Compared to Other Countries CDC Document Shows Just How Badly the U.S. Is Handling Coronavirus Compared to Other Countries

The U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic continues to be faltering, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prev...

Language